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U.S. Evacuates about 3,000 from Kabul Airport on Thursday; China and Taliban are Awkward Allies; Harris' Asia Trip Carries New Urgency after Afghan Collapse. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired August 20, 2021 - 05:30   ET



LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. This is EARLY START. I'm Laura Jarrett.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: It's Friday, I'm Christine Romans. It is 30 minutes past the hour. Time for our top stories to keep an eye on today.

The U.S. evacuated about 3,000 people from Kabul Airport, Thursday. Thousands more remain before the August 31st deadline. The top U.S. Commander in Afghanistan has been talking with his Taliban counterpart on security around the airport with mixed results. The U.S. Embassy warns it cannot ensure safe passage for Americans trying to reach that airport.

JARRETT: U.S. Diplomats wrote a classified cable to Secretary of State Tony Blinken in mid-July urging swift action to prevent a catastrophe in Afghanistan. State Department officials tell CNN they urged the White House to move quickly and process and evacuate Afghans who helped the U.S.

ROMANS: Texas House Democrats suddenly ending their historic walkout after more than five weeks. It paves the way for restrictive new voting legislation. More on that in a moment.

JARRETT: Authorities working to determine the charges against a bomb threat suspect on Capitol Hill. Officials say Floyd Roseberry drove his truck on to the sidewalk in front of the Library of Congress leading to an hours' long standoff. He had said all Democrats should step down. Roseberry's son tells CNN he thinks it was a mental breakdown. He has a history of supporting the former President.

ROMANS: Three U.S. senators testing positive for coronavirus. Mississippi's Roger Wicker, Maine's Angus King and John Hickenlooper of Colorado were all vaccinated, they all said are doing okay. The C.D.C. says breakthrough cases remain rare.

JARRETT: A revamp for Only Fans. The online creator platform has announced it will ban sexually explicit content starting in October, although it hasn't yet defined exactly what that means, Only Fans says the change comes at the request of its banking and payment partners.

ROMANS: Climate change hurting sea levels and your health. A new study find a very concerning 74 percent increase in heat-related deaths caused by climate change between 1980 and 2016. Deaths related to extremely cold temperatures have also increased.

JARRETT: And speaking of the climate crisis, for the first time ever recorded, rain rather than snow fell at the highest point in Greenland roughly two miles above sea level. Experts say it is evidence that green land's arctic climate is warming quickly.

ROMANS: All right, 32 minutes past the hour. Let's go to Kabul now. CNN's chief international correspondent, Clarissa Ward has been reporting on the chaos from outside that airport and now she is inside the airport and filed this report.


CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Our journey took us roughly seven hours. The vast majority of people we've spoken to though, it has been one or two days to try to get in. And I have to tell you, that initial shove to get in the first gate is unlike anything I've ever experienced.

Pushing, crushing, people screaming, all holding on to each other's hands desperately trying to get in this small door. We were lucky because we were American citizens, but so many others are not.

Having said that, we have seen many Afghans inside various checkpoints moving through the very slow system that is in place to try to evacuate people. Some of them standing out in the blazing hot sun for eight hours, screaming babies.

At one stage we saw a newborn baby brought through on a military vehicle at high speed because the baby had dehydrated and had heat stroke. One soldier told me that yesterday people were actually throwing babies at these U.S. soldiers because they were so desperate to get their children out to a better future.

One of these men actually caught one of the babies and later found the family and returned the child to the family. But if that doesn't speak to the unimaginable desperation, then I just don't know what does. One of the soldiers here said that they have evacuated 13,000 people since last Friday, the largest airlift evacuation in U.S. history according to him.

But my god, there is still a lot of work to do, a lot more people to save. The crowds outside the airport do not get any smaller. They seem to get bigger if anything every day.


JARRETT: Clarissa, thank you for filing that report for us. All of this, as China is embracing the Taliban now lending a powerful international backing to the militant group, but their awkward alliance began well before the Taliban steam rolled Kabul and re-took Afghanistan.

So, what is behind the relationship? CNN's David Culver is live for us in Beijing. David, good morning. What is Beijing's motivation here?

DAVID CULVER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Laura, good morning to you. They are clearly making this a very public move to show their support and willingness to cooperate with the Taliban. In fact from the Foreign Ministry, we heard that they said that the Taliban is more sober and rational than before and they are not expected to repeat past history.


CULVER: No matter how you look at this, it makes for some awkward allies.


CULVER (voice over): Just weeks before the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan, China made a very public display of growing closer to the group's leadership. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, meeting a Taliban delegation in northern China in July, giving legitimacy and perhaps confidence to the militant group long regarded with fear and suspicion by the rest of the world.

As many global powers now rush to escape Afghanistan, China claims it remains one of the few countries to retain its embassy in the capital. But China's support for the Taliban comes with strings attached. China's help with reconstruction in exchange for the Taliban assuring regional stability.

HUA CHUNYING, CHINESE FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESPERSON (through translator): They will never allow any forces to use Afghan territory to endanger China.

CULVER (voice over): A deal brokered between awkward allies, a militant group representing hardline Islam and a Chinese government accused of cultural genocide against and mass detainment of its Muslim minorities at home. But China's relationship with the Taliban goes back a long way.

SEAN ROBERTS, AUTHOR, "THE WAR ON UYGHURS": It established relations with the Taliban already in 1999 at the encouragement of Pakistan, which is one of China's closest allies.

CULVER (voice over): The relationship was seen as pragmatism to manage a potential threat as China shares a small border with Afghanistan through the Wakhan Corridor, and China's multibillion dollar Belt and Road investments in neighboring Pakistan are at stake.

HENRY STOREY, POLITICAL RISK ANALYST: I think they are very wary to get involved militarily. And so at this stage, I think trying to cultivate the top rungs in the Taliban promised lots of foreign aid and investments that is really, their least worst option at the moment.

CULVER (voice over): The Taliban, for its part has not spoken out publicly against China's crackdown on its Uyghur Muslim population in Xinjiang, a silence replicated by many other Muslim majority countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia. The Chinese government defends its Xinjiang policy and says it is trying to stamp out terrorism, after several attacks, which it blamed on a group called the East Turkistan Islamic Movement, or ETIM, a tiny fringe group that began to dissolve when its leader was killed by the Pakistani military in 2003.


CULVER (voice over): Sean Roberts, author of "The War on the Uyghurs" says the Chinese government used George W. Bush's war on terror to justify its harsh policies targeting the ethnic Muslim minorities.

ROBERTS: I think that shielded China from a lot of criticism for some of the draconian policies it carried out against Uyghurs.

CULVER (voice over): But other groups who could use the plight of the Uyghur cause to recruit Jihadis, a concern for Asia's superpower as it tries to navigate the new political reality on its doorstep.


CULVER (on camera): Laura, it does seem that this cozy now between China and the Taliban is based on trying to maintain regional stability and social stability right here within China. But we cannot forget the money that's at stake here.

Afghanistan sits on an estimated $1 trillion worth of mineral wealth, you can bet that China is also looking at that.

ROMANS: Yes. Electronics navigation, rechargeable batteries, lots of things to fight the climate crisis, all of these things depend on ...

CULVER: Exactly.

ROMANS: ... on the mother lode of these earth -- rare earth minerals that sit in Afghanistan, a very savvy reason for China to be interested in keeping ties open.

Nice to see you.

JARRETT: Thanks, David.

ROMANS: All right. The current Afghan crisis raising the stakes for Vice President Kamala Harris when she leaves for Southeast Asia tonight with the administration in desperate need of a foreign policy win.

CNNs Jasmine Wright is live in Washington, and Jasmine, the Vice President's first foreign trip was a bit of a disaster. Now, perhaps even more on the line, what are you hearing behind the scenes?

JASMINE WRIGHT, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: That's exactly right, Christine, because of these dire events in Afghanistan, it turned what was once a low risk trip to the friendly countries of Singapore and Vietnam into frankly, a big challenge for the Vice President because remember, even though yes, she did go to Guatemala and Mexico in that migration role and has held over a dozen calls with world leaders as her time as Vice President, in a time of crisis as this is right now, she has not been tested on the world stage, and this is what this trip presents.

So, she will have really two big goals, two missions when she touches down overseas. First, it will be to deliver a policy when for the Biden administration, really as the President and the administration itself faces questions of their competence from allies abroad.

And second, Christine, it will be to really embody that pivot that President Biden has been calling for to focus his foreign policy attention on countering a rising China. He has said many times before, fighting the battles of the next 20 years aka China instead of fighting the battles of the last 20 years aka Afghanistan.


WRIGHT: And remember, this is a region that really kind of wants U.S. investment. President Biden, excuse me -- former President Obama first invested in it, former President Trump kind of pulled out, President Biden is going back in and they want to talk about sustained U.S. investment. They want to talk about trade. They want to talk about countering Chinese aggression in the South China Sea.

So that is something that officials tell me in this piece that just came out that the Vice President will be talking about, but really the big fish for them is trying to deepen the alliances and that status, as one source put it to me, though, that Vice President Harris will have the challenge alone to answer the question of can America reassert itself?

So, we will see the Vice President leaving tonight. She gets there Sunday morning and the first event start on Monday, Christine, on this very big trip.

ROMANS: All right Jasmine, so nice to see you. Thank you so much for that. Have a nice weekend.

We'll be right back.



JARRETT: Hurricane watches issued for parts of the Northeast in New England now. Tropical Storm Henri will make for a wet weekend ahead. Meteorologist Derek Van Dam has the forecast.

DEREK VAN DAM, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Good morning. All eyes on Tropical Storm Henri and for good reason because it does pose a direct threat to the southern New England region by Sunday evening into early Monday morning.

Here is the latest from the National Hurricane Center, 65-mile per hour Tropical Storm located well off our southeast coast. The official forecast track calls for a strengthening storm into a Category One Hurricane as it makes its final approach into southern New England again late Sunday into early Monday.

What is steering this is so important. We've got high pressure to the north and east and an upper level low working its way across the Mid- Atlantic that will help that almost north to northwesterly jog towards the New England coast line by the end of the weekend. And also Tropical Storm Henri is going to take advantage of the relatively warm ocean waters of the Gulf Stream helping strengthen the storm as well.

Significant model differences that we're monitoring, of course, lots of details still to iron out, but one thing is for sure, tropical mischief, a likelihood and increasing likelihood along the eastern seaboard this weekend.

Back to you, Christina and Laura.

ROMANS: All right. Thank you so much for that. Now, if you plan on flying American Airlines anytime soon, don't expect midflight cocktails. The airline says it is extending the current ban on alcohol in the main cabin of its flights until January 2022.

You know drink sales are at least partly to blame for the staggering increase in passengers behaving badly. The F.A.A. is proposing more than a half million dollars in new fines against dozens of unruly passengers who refused to wear masks, struck flight attendants, and even threw luggage across the cabin.

Official say there have been nearly 3,900 in-flight incidents reported, and Laura, these flight incidents, many of them are over masks. And now questions about vaccine requirements on planes.

We're in this sort of culture war over wearing a mask, over getting a vaccine. You can see people are coming unglued on these airplanes. One of the interesting questions I've been hearing a lot about is insurance companies.


ROMANS: Can they add a premium for being unvaccinated?

JARRETT: Oh, how I wish the answer to this was easy, but it's not. It's messy. And the idea here being that look, if people have chosen to not get vaccinated now, they're making a risky choice that the rest of us shouldn't have to pay for.

Think about things like scuba diving. So yes, scuba diving, smoking, rock climbing -- if you get injured from something like that, certain insurers actually won't pay for certain treatment. And so the idea of being here, the vaccine is now available, why should we bear that cost?

The problem is that there are actually State and Federal regulations that make it tricky to price based on health factors. Think about the Affordable Care Act saying that you can't discriminate based off preexisting conditions

ROMANS: But is not getting a vaccine, a preexisting condition? It's a lifestyle choice.

JARRETT: No, it's a lifestyle choice. But there again, the other regulations that make it tricky. What you can do, though, is incentivize people to get vaccinated and certain employers you've already seen doing this, maybe giving you 20 bucks off. The way you would if you wanted to engage in, say, a lifestyle choice that you know, was about losing weight, employers can give you a little bit off your health insurance that way. And so I think that's the route that they're going.

But they, so far haven't gone the route of penalizing people for not getting vaccinated with the insurance, but they may try to do this and it's going to get tested. All this is going to get litigated eventually. We know it all ends up in court.

ROMANS: Meantime, it's ending up in the hospitals. It's the hospital -- it is the frontline workers who have vaccinated and unvaccinated people coming to their ERs and not enough beds.

JARRETT: Yes. All right. Well, now to Texas.

Texas Republicans making it hard to vote, that bill back on track after House Democrats ended a 38-day walkout to temporarily block that measure, you'll remember. At least three new Democrats returned to the floor Thursday.

The Texas House now has the required two-thirds of members necessary for a quorum. A public hearing on the voting bill has been set for Saturday. On Tuesday, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that the State House could compel the attendance of its members by civil arrest.

All right, special treatment for an American movie star sparking serious backlash against Hong Kong's government. Residents have lived with some of the world's toughest COVID restrictions, and now, they're not so happy that the government is making an exception for Nicole Kidman. She's there to shoot a series.

Let's bring in CNN's Will Ripley live for us in Hong Kong. Will, we've seen you there in quarantine many a time, butt Nicole Kidman is getting a pass. She's walking out on the streets.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I have lost count of how many quarantines I've talked to you from, Laura. This is now the beginning of a 14-day quarantine for me.


RIPLEY: It would have been 21 days, but I cut my vacation short by two weeks to race back here to wait in line at the airport for five hours, get tested for COVID, and then get basically dumped in this hotel room in complete isolation where I'm going to do my own laundry in the shower because nothing that comes into your room can go out.

Nicole Kidman's experience, very different. She flew to Hong Kong a few days ago by private jet from Sydney, which is in the middle of an outbreak with the delta variant, but the City of Hong Kong decided to exempt her from the draconian quarantine rules that require up to three weeks self-paid hotel quarantine for nearly everybody who wants to come into the city, which has almost no cases in the community.

Keeping those cases out comes at a cost, and for some here in Hong Kong, that cost is so steep, they haven't been able to leave the city to visit their families, their parents, to do any sort of travel for nearly two years because they can't afford to stay in a hotel room for up to three weeks at their own expense.

So, to have an actress like Nicole Kidman come in here, the city says they exempted her from quarantine rules because she is vaccinated. They say she is performing an essential service for the city's economy, and they say that they are monitoring her movements and they are limiting her interaction with the general public.

They say because of those factors, it's safe. But is it fair? Well, that's certainly a question a lot of people here in Hong Kong would say absolutely not.

JARRETT: Yes, that is the open question this morning. And I mistakenly identified her as an American actress because I embraced her since I love Nicole Kidman movies and series.

Will Ripley --

RIPLEY: Australian.

JARRETT: Yes, Australian. Thank you so much. Appreciate it.

ROMANS: All right, let's go check on CNN Business this morning. Looking at markets around the world to end the week, Asian markets closed lower after China passed sweeping new rules about the collection and use of personal data. European shares have also opened slightly lower here on Wall Street.

Stock index futures at this hour leaning down. You know Fed fears back for investors here, the third straight day of losses for the Dow. The S&P 500 and the NASDAQ, will, they are up slightly.

A milestone for layoffs in the American economy, the fewest of the pandemic and the Biden administration saying it will not extend the extra $300.00 a week in jobless benefits set to expire in early September. It was always meant to be temporary.

Johnson & Johnson will have a new CEO next year. Joaquin Duato will replace Alex Gorsky on January 3rd. Duato had been with the company for more than 30 years. Gorsky who has been CEO since 2012 will become Executive Chairman. J&J is facing questions whether a booster shot will be needed for its one shot coronavirus vaccine as well as thousands of lawsuits over claims its talcum powder caused cancer.

JARRETT: Yes, a lot of people who got J&J waiting on that news.

All right, an NFL player calling for changes to COVID protocols after testing positive himself. Andy Scholes has this morning's Bleacher Report. Hey, Andy. ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Hey, good morning, Laura. So,

a fully vaccinated players, they are only tested once every two weeks and loosening the strict protocols, you know, that was part of the incentive for players to go get vaccinated, but Cardinals offensive lineman, Justin Pugh, he is criticizing the league setting policies for vaccinated players after becoming a breakthrough case himself.

Pugh posting: "Hey, NFL, we need daily testing for vaccinated and non- vaccinated players. I was vaccinated, still got COVID. As of now vaccinated players are tested every 14 days. That's not enough. Who knows how long I walked around the building with it or whoever I got it from. Fix this as soon as possible."

The Cardinals currently have three players on the COVID-19 reserve list.

All right, to baseball where the Angels made their largest comeback in team history yesterday. They were down 10 to two to the Tigers in the sixth inning when their bats came alive. Max Stassi bringing them all the way back to go ahead two run home run. The angels with 13-10.

Coming into Thursday, teams were one and 240 when trailing by eight runs this season.

All right, Naomi Osaka, meanwhile was upset by 76 ranked Jil Teichmann in Cincinnati yesterday, Osaka won the first set, but then struggled, dropping the next two. It's only the fourth time Osaka has lost the match after winning the first set.

Afterwards, she said, well, this loss is a blessing in disguise.


NAOMI OSAKA, FOUR-TIME GRAND SLAM WINNER: I think I took a step in the right direction today because I was able to process things with my team after I lost and I honestly haven't been able to do that for the last couple of matches.

So in a weird way, I'm kind of -- I'm kind of glad that I lost because there's so many things that I want to fix before New York.


SCHOLES: All right, Osaka is going to likely defend her US Open title when it starts in less than two weeks.

Finally, a massive shake up in the sports card industry, Major League Baseball's seven-year relationship with Topps is coming to an end. According to multiple reports, Fanatics has secured the exclusive license to produce baseball cards of Major League Baseball. The deal with Topps ends in 2025.

Reports also say Fanatics has secured deals with the NBA and NFL Players Associations as well. NBA and NFL cards currently made by Panini. According to "The Wall Street Journal," the new Fanatics card company

is going to be a joint venture with the leagues and players associations owning equity.


SCHOLES: And I tell you what guys is someone who collects sports cards, you know, since I was a little kid and still open them with my kids, man, this is a huge shake up. Incredible that Topps isn't going to be able to make baseball cards.

ROMANS: I know Laura has got a big collection under her bed, too, all kinds of baseball cards, right? Priceless.


ROMANS: All right, nice to see you, Andy. Thanks.

SCHOLES: All right.

ROMANS: Something you and I know nothing about this whole time.

JARRETT: I was going to say, yes, you know that's not true.

ROMANS: Happy to leave that to Andy. Thanks for joining us, everybody. I'm Christine Roman.

JARRETT: I'm Laura Jarrett. "New Day" is next.


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. It is Friday, August 20th. I'm Brianna Keilar along with John Avlon.


KEILAR: Here in the studio. Good morning to you. And the clock is ticking. The desperation is building for thousands and thousands of Americans and Afghan allies who are trying to escape from Afghanistan.

Here is what we know right now. We know that 3,000 people were evacuated in the last 24 hours on 16 military transport flights. That is a number that includes 350 Americans and U.S. permanent citizens.

Now for people on the ground, trying to get out is simply terrifying.